Step 1: Get Organized
Since my library system offers story times 50 weeks out of the year, I plan my story times one week at a time, and though it doesn't always work out, I try to stay one month ahead so that I'm never planning a program at the last minute. To that end, I keep a set of folders and documents on Google Drive that sorts my story times first by month, then by week, and then by individual session.
Since January, I have been using themes for each week, so I indicate those in parentheses in the name of the folder, and if there is a more specific focus for an individual story time I indicate that in the name of the file for the session itself. I make all of these documents for the month before I choose any materials. Once I know how many story times I'm doing, and which themes I'm focusing on, I start filling in the blanks.
Step 2: Choose Books
After I have the framework for each week, I head to the catalog, the shelves, and my past blog posts to track down the books I want to use. I always select books before anything else, because if I can't find enough quality stories for a given theme or age group, I scrap that theme and try something else. For the most part, I try to choose very broad themes so I can take them in many directions. Earlier this year, when I was doing all of the story times at my branch, this was especially important because I needed so many books. Now that I'm down to four story times a week, it is easier to find enough books on less general themes, but I still try not to get too obscure or specific, because often even if there are books, there aren't many extension activities for those themes.
Step 3: Choose Songs and Rhymes
Finding songs and rhymes has become easier over time, as I have accumulated them over the past two years in my story time wiki.
Step 4: Make a Set List
Once I have notes in each document for a given theme, I go back in and start listing activities and books in the order I think I would like to use them. If I have a song or rhyme that I don't know well, I'll include the words and tune right there on the sheet so I don't draw a blank when I get in front of my audience.
Once I feel finished with a given set list, I close it and move onto the next one. I don't look at the set list again until it's time to actually set up for story time.
Step 5: Set Up
I perform story time in two different rooms. The large drop-in story time is held in a conference room, because it frequently attracts over 100 people and that is the only space that can accommodate a group of that size. My other story times, which attract smaller numbers, are held in the actual story time room.
I set up my space 30 to 45 minutes prior to story time, depending on how I find the room when I arrive, and whether there is a program before mine. At this point, I print out my set list, and then inevitably make changes in pencil once it has been printed. Most of the time, I change the order of things, but there are also times where I will realize I just can't stand a particular song, and I'll swap it out for something else. If I have read a book earlier in the week that was a dud, I might switch that for a better option at this point as well. When I'm happy with the list, I go find all the necessary puppets, flannel board pieces and books in the picture book bin I use for storage, and bring them into the story time space.
Step 6: Take Photos
Once I have everything laid out, I snap a photo on my phone to upload to my blog later on. This has been a great way for me to keep track of story times visually on Pinterest. Often I can just glance quickly at the picture and it will remind me of how that particular story time was received by the kids. Then I can click through and revisit more of the finer details on my blog. After the photo is taken, I change the way things are laid out just a little bit, to minimize the potential for little hands losing a flannel board piece or running off with a book. In the conference room, this means setting everything on the ledge of the whiteboard. In the story room, it means hiding almost everything inside the portable flannel board.
Step 7: Open the Doors
I open the doors for the large story times ten minutes before the scheduled start time. In the story room, I can typically wait until just about show time. If a story time requires registration, someone else from the staff signs the kids in so that I can get in the story time zone without worrying about paperwork. Because I hate to have them all staring at my expectantly (it reminds me of being asked to speak in class when I didn't know the answer in tenth grade history), I never enter the room myself until I'm ready to start story time.
Step 8: Tune the Ukulele
I typically only use the ukulele for the large groups, and I use that ten minutes between opening the doors and actually starting story time to tune it and make sure I have the chords memorized for whatever song I'm playing. The ukulele is never left unattended in the story time space, so it accompanies me when I enter the story time room.
Step 9: Take a Deep Breath
When I enter the story time room, I take one last moment to look over my materials and make sure nothing is missing. Then I count to three in my head to get myself into the story time zone and say, "Good morning everybody!" I launch into the hello song, and then follow the set list as closely as I can for the next 30 minutes.
Step 10: Review
After a given story time is over, I post on my blog about what did and did not work. Though this particular story time is done, doing a post-mortem analysis is actually good preparation for the next story time, especially if it's still early in the week and I'm still working with the same theme. Then I click over to the next set list and begin the process all over again!
How do you plan your story times?